A short history of hacktivism: its past and present and what can we learn from it

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Hacktivism, or the use of hacking techniques as a means to express a political message, has been a phenomenon that has existed for almost 30 years now. From the anti-nuclear protesting worm (WANK) infecting a NASA-operated network (DECnet) in 1989 and the Digital Zapatistas of the Electronic Disturbance Theater to the various exploits of Anonymous and the more recent eco-activist manifestations, hacktivism is seemingly an inextricable part of the Internet’s everyday life. Despite its long history, the phenomenon only gained major media, and consequently, popular attention after the recent protests of the contemporary collective, Anonymous, and its offshoots. In fact, so much was the attention hacktivism received at the beginning of the 2010s, that 2011 was branded: ‘the year of the hacktivist’. This paper acknowledges the complexity of the phenomenon of hacktivism beyond the recent headlines and looks at hacktivism more holistically, as an inextricable part of cyberspace politics since its inception. It is only after we have looked at hacktivism’s history that we are able to fully comprehend the phenomenon, its various aspects and its organic development alongside socio-political, technological and also legislative developments. Therefore, this historical overview is not only meant to familiarise us with the various characteristics, tactics and transformations of hacktivism, but to also help us understand the challenges of dealing with such a multi-faceted phenomenon from a criminal justice perspective and imagine its future reincarnations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking Cybercrime: Critical Debates
EditorsTim Owen, Jessica Marshall
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9783030558413
ISBN (Print)9783030558406
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2020


  • hacktivism
  • anonymous
  • activism
  • hacking
  • online politics
  • political cybercrime


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